Mary Poppins – Palace Theatre, Manchester

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Mary Poppins is a lively and colourful musical that tells the story of the Banks family, who live in a beautiful house at 17 Cherry Tree Lane. Life doesn’t seem to be going so well for the family as the children of the family, Jane & Michael are in need a new nanny.

In comes a rather intriguing character, Mary Poppins. The family realise Mary is the answer to their prayers who teaches not only Jane & Michael how to behave and to respect those around them, but she also has a profound effect on Mr & Mrs Banks.

Having had the privilege to have seen this show when it originally played at the Prince Edward Theatre, London back in 2004, I was looking forward to this being a trip down memory lane. I remember how I felt after seeing it 11 years ago and whilst in Manchester for work, this was the perfect opportunity to see the show.

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The set designed by Bob Crowley is captivating from the start. The main set feature being the house that moves from upstage towards the audience, to then open up (much like a dolls house) to the Banks’ family home. This was the main feature of the show, although many of the set transitions were great, including lots of scene changes happening in seconds with the entire stage transforming, a great example being the neon colours in ‘Jolly Holiday’. I did feel that some scenes were a little out of place. One particular scene features a huge replica of Mary Poppins umbrella, which opens up, with lights flashing on it. Whilst it was quite a spectacle to see due to it’s size, it didn’t feel right for something like this to be in the show.

The production is co-choreograhed by Matthew Bourne OBE and Stephen Mear, with some huge production numbers in Act two. One of my favourites, and I think many of the audience would agree that Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious was a definite crowd pleaser and is always a spectacle to see. ‘Step In Time’ is another personal favourite.

Mary Poppins, played by Zizi Strallen is a hugely energetic and challenging part to play. Whilst Zizi has an excellent vocal range tremendous dancing ability (which is seen throughout the show), I didn’t feel that she was right for the part of Mary. I found her to come across as a little intimidating and rather strict in the tone of her voice, also lacking some Britishness about herself. The vocals mirrored these emotions. Having seen the show back in 2004 I remember Mary was a much softer, warming and authoritative figure. However, I applaud Zizi for the energy she brings to the part and the physical endurance needed to keep going throughout the show.

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Bert played by Matt Lee, is a cockney chimney sweep that has complete admiration for Mary. Lee comes with an abundance of charisma and charm and his stage presence throughout. A talented actor who suited the character very well, with the audience warming to him very quickly.

Jane & Michael Banks played by Lewis Fernee and Lucy Simmonds show their sweet nature and how they warm to Mary Poppins after a string of disastrous nannies. At times I did struggle to hear Lucy as she was speaking a little too fast, and on a few occasions she stumbled on her lines.

I found Mr Banks, played by Milo Twomey a little difficult to follow and I thought the character lacked a more fatherly figure to his wife and children. Mrs Banks, played by Rebecca Lock really shone throughout the evening. Her vocals were amazing and had the hair on the back of my neck on end many times. I really felt for Mrs Banks during ‘Being Mrs Banks’ and she had been cast very well and she suited this role in many ways.

One thing I did find throughout the show is that the sound quality could have been better. It did feel much of the sound was directed more towards the stalls, whereas in the Royal Circle, I could still hear them, but in comparison to other shows, the sound felt a little off balance and could have been projected more.

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Mary Poppins is a great production with outstanding choreography, staging and a lavish score. It is a musical that can make you laugh, cry and is the perfect sing-a-along musical.

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Mary Poppins is at the Palace Theatre in Manchester until the 5th of March, before embarking on a tour of the UK until 2017. Further information and tickets can be found here.

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